The opening lines of Simon and Garfunkel’s tune “The 59th Street Bridge Song” (“Slow down, you move too fast. You got to make the morning last.”) have always made me chuckle. I don’t do pokey. I really never have.
I typically like to get things done, or arrive at a destination, as quickly as possible. I boasted last year on Facebook shortly after we’d moved into our house it had taken me just 32 minutes – drink break included – to mow our lawn and finish all the yardwork. When I was in my early 20s I was proud of the fact I’d driven from my hometown to the state capital, which was 140 miles away from my parents’ house, in less than two hours (I clocked in somewhere between 1:50 and 1:55). This was when I viewed the posted speed limit on Interstate 90 as just a suggestion and my bladder was much stronger.
Whereas I have an “Ahead, Warp Factor 7, Mr. Sulu” mentality, Cindy is my polar opposite and tends to move much more deliberately. Nolan does, too. Lately both Cindy and I have needed to give sonny boy several verbal prompts to do just about anything. Yes, some of that has to do with the fact he has Autism. But sometimes I forget some of his dawdling just stems from the fact he’s 14 and has a lot of typical teenager in him.
Nolan and I have been going on walks at least two or three times a week since early April as part of his at-home adaptive physical education assignments. And more often than not, I can count on the following happening:
Nolan will fix his gaze on my car parked in the driveway and make a move for it, then run toward the street yelling at the top of his lungs and sometimes bending my arm a direction it was never meant to go even though I told him more than once in the house we were going for a walk.
His temper tantrum will subside by the time we cross the street.
To say we’re going on a leisurely stroll is an understatement.
Our neighborhood walks have typically ranged from only one to two miles, but I plan on us being out of the house for a minimum of 45 minutes. Nolan likes to take his time as I’m trying to get us to move at a pace that is slower than brisk, but faster than snail. He’s fond of stopping and picking up leaves. We make lengthy pit stops either by the recess area of the middle school he attends or on the school’s tennis courts. Sometimes he’ll just stop, turn to his right, and stare at something off in the distance for a moment or two.
Having a son with Autism who also is nonverbal has taught me to be much more patient than I once was. I know the two of us have no reason to be in a hurry, and I don’t mind a brief stop here and there. But sometimes we really need to move at a much quicker pace, like when it’s starting to sprinkle and Nolan is enjoying feeling the raindrops on his face as dad is frantically trying to move him along because we’re still four blocks from home. Or I realize I drank too much water before we left home and I really, REALLY, have to get to a bathroom – stat (I can’t believe there was a time when I didn’t need to take a pee break for more than two hours. Now there are days I need one every 20 minutes).
And then there are days when – forgive me for being so graphic – I could soak my britches and not give a damn.
Twice in the last two weeks, Nolan has requested that we extend our walks by pulling my arm a little more than half a mile from our house and leading me in the opposite direction of where our home is. Last Friday, he became upset when I told him we couldn’t go into City Hall, which is still closed to the public due to the pandemic, and told me on his communication device he had to use the toilet. I told him we would have to start walking home. He pulled my arm, started dragging me west, and immediately calmed down.
From there, we enjoyed a warm, pleasant late May day on a walk that lasted 1 hour and 20 minutes. There was no yelling. There were no attempts to twist dad’s limbs into a pretzel. Nothing in Nolan’s body language screamed, “Are we home yet?????,” nor did I ask the same question out loud. I’ve run two marathons and several half-marathons, and I’ve felt pretty good about what I accomplished. I never thought a two-mile walk would give me just as much, if not more, satisfaction.
I remember when I was in fifth grade and my father, who had been placed on medical leave by the company he’d worked for, would drive his electric wheelchair to the elementary school I attended toward the end of the school year and we would go home together. Those walks together didn’t continue when I reached middle school because, well, I was a teenage asshole who couldn’t accept the fact my father had Multiple Sclerosis, and I would have been embarrassed had he met me at school.
I know Nolan has missed his daily routine since he was last in school in mid-March, and I know there are days he gets tired of me being his teacher as well as his father. His latest thing to do when he wants some space and he thinks either Cindy or I is too close to him is to lead us to the bathroom, push us inside, and close the door.
But I really believe he enjoys our afternoon walks together. That makes me happy, because soon we might not have as many opportunities to do so. The starting date is still up in the air, but Nolan is scheduled to participate in a summer program three days a week with a local agency. And he will be starting his freshman year of high school in September. It will be nice, but strange, to eventually be in a quiet house once again.
It’s been years since I last saw “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” but I remembered this quote by Matthew Broderick: “Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” Being able to walk with Nolan and see the world at a slower pace is helping me to realize that. In this case, being pokey is a very good thing.